Doctors-Only Social Networks Protect Patient Privacy

Doctors-Only Social Networks Protect Patient Privacy

A new breed of exclusive, secure social media sites allow doctors to collaborate and share knowledge on mobile devices without compromising patient privacy.

Addressing the medical community’s needs for privacy and collaboration, creators of Doximity conceived it as a professional network for physicians, similar to LinkedIn. The site recently added a newsfeed feature that allows doctors to use the platform to post messages and collaborate with colleagues. The site has about 40,000 physician members.

Physicians embrace smartphones and tablets and use them often in their work, especially as a host of apps and mobile tools transform mobile devices into diagnostic, treatment and healthcare communication tools. Doctors also turn to mainstream social media sites like Facebook and Twitter in their work to set up appointments, answer questions and stay in touch with patients.

Public social media sites raise patient privacy concerns, however, and doctors risk their reputations, jobs and livelihoods if they share too much specific patient information over channels considered insecure by regulators.

Doximity does not have official HIPAA certification, but the company says it worked with independent consultants to stay within privacy protection guidelines. Doctors must undergo a three-step verification process to set up a profile on the site, including a credit check, verification of credentials and a multi-step sign-on process.

Since Doximity is open to doctors only and provides a secure environment, physicians can use it to communicate about patient-specific details they would not be allowed to share via e-mail, text message or a public social media site.

Another site, “Doctors Helping Doctors Transform Health Care,” helps physicians navigate the learning curve involved with adopting electronic medical records (EMR) platforms by allowing them to network with and learn from other medical practices that have already adopted EMR.

Regulators made “meaningful use” of EMR mandatory for doctors to receive Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement. But, many practices are ill-equipped to implement EMR platforms or put them to good use. The “Doctors Helping Doctors” site sets up an online collaboration platform that helps physicians learn from others’ experiences and avoid making the same mistakes, ultimately enabling them to streamline processes and better serve patients.

These social networking offerings join a burgeoning field of offerings specifically designed for the medical field. For example, HealthTap created a social network that includes more than 5,000 doctors who are available to answer patient questions, providing a safer environment than Facebook or Twitter to further doctor-patient communication.

The latest offerings fulfill an even more pressing need, allowing doctors to consult with far-flung colleagues and instantly find experts to get opinions and advice when a patient’s well-being is at stake.

Right now, doctors communicate mainly by fax due to HIPAA regulations mandating how they can share and send patient information. Many hospital systems and medical practices send and receive thousands of pages of faxes weekly as a result.

This system is cumbersome and inefficient, but until now doctors had few other choices if they wished to seek a colleague’s input on a diagnosis, test results, symptoms, medical records or other aspects of a patient’s care.

As physicians increasingly turn to mobile devices to streamline communication, privacy concerns grow. One study by a secure texting provider showed more than 70 percent of physicians text their peers, potentially putting both patient information and their own careers at risk.

Secure, doctors-only social networks will fill a need for up-to-the minute communication between physicians, while keeping patient information secure and enabling doctors to stick to strict HIPAA regulations.

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